BOOK CLUB: The French Photographer

Click to rate this book!
[Total: 1 Average: 5]

Natasha Lester is a West Australian author who just gets better with every book. Her ability to bring events and times from our past into vivid reality on the page is being honed with every release, making each subsequent release her best work.

The French Photographer is meticulously researched as well as imaginatively written, bringing the life of a female war-time photo journalist to life on the page. The French Photographer was inspired by one of the first female war photojournalists and there is a lot of fact and real photos woven into the fictitious life of Jessica May, renowned Vogue model turned war photojournalist. There are a number of real people woven into the story and though some of what is in the novel is true, not all of it is.

I am at a complete loss where to start this review because I really don’t think I have the words to do it justice.

Once again Lester has written a dual narrative connecting two very different times in a mystery that isn’t unravelled until the dying pages. There were elements of the mystery that I worked out rather quickly but others were quite the surprise.

Any story set in a world ravaged by war is sure to have moments of utter heartbreak and The French Photographer was certainly not short of those. It was also filled with the treatment of women and what an outrage, but what an amazing job these women did of paving the way for generations to come; to make it a little easier for women to make their way in the world.

Jessica May, and all the other female war correspondents, worked hard to prove that were capable of reporting from a warzone; just as capable as the men, but who brought a completely new perspective to the stories they covered.

The females that were allowed on the same continents as the war, though not allowed anywhere near the front, were expected to write stories about the nurses and stories that really seemed ridiculously frivolous in the midst of a war. The stories seemed frivolous to me, 70 years later and in a different world; how must these reporters have felt in the middle of a war with so much going on that needed to be reported and they get sent to cover a fashion show.

I honestly couldn’t tell you which narrative was my favourite because there was so much to love about all of these characters. Sitting here thinking about it now, flicking through the memories of all I read and all I felt as I read and I think I have to pick the war torn years of Jessica May. I say this because her world was so much larger than the one we get to know D’Arcy in. Jess takes us through all of her experiences of the war, the discrimination, the horror, the atrocious behaviour of some soldiers across armies and the cast of characters encompasses photojournalists, war correspondents, soldiers, nurses and civilians.

In comparison D’Arcy’s narrative covers only a few weeks spent in a French chateau to pack up a famous collection of photographs by the very mysterious photographer who has remained anonymous through decades. Her story is largely contained within the grounds of the chateau she is sharing with the photographer, the agent Josh and Celie, the housekeeper. We still get quite an intimate look at D’Arcy and her life, we get to know her and the chateau well but it’s just not the same as the vivid pictures of the war.

Having a mystery at the heart of the story makes it difficult to know what I should and shouldn’t share. For that reason I’m not going to share the storylines, I will let you discover them as you delve into the world of The French Photographer that Lester has recreated with her lyrical prose. I will allow you to get to know the characters that I abhorred, along with those I adored as the story unfolds for you.

I found myself completely invested in Jessica’s life and the hurdles she faced, maybe a little more than her contemporaries because she managed to get her Public Relations Officer offside on her first day and the antagonism between them never faded; but also because she had a very public career as a Vogue model before she turned her hand to photojournalism. It made her a target for the chauvinistic attitudes and those who refused to believe a woman capable of finding her own stories, it was too easy to claim that she got her stories with her looks and what it was rumoured she was willing to do to get a story.

Jess was a strong willed, big hearted and extremely talented woman who wasn’t afraid to say what she thought, even when she knew it would come back to bite her. She was also the type of woman who seemed to attract the antagonism of those who could make things come back to bite her.

The sacrifices made by many in the war were not confined to the battlefield and Lester does a fantastic job of bringing all of the types of sacrifice together in a story that absolutely broke my heart.

Lester has managed to pen the struggles of extremely talented women who worked hard throughout the war to turn in stories and images that stayed with the world, stories that men either couldn’t see or didn’t want to tell, and the world didn’t always thank them for it. But it showed a strength of character and a bravery that all of the women who came after them can be proud of. They also did it knowing that the world they lived in wouldn’t recognise their skills and they would never be awarded for it yet they did it anyway. Then when the war was over and the male correspondents started returning home they were all expected to sashay lightly back to their homes to wait for a husband to look after them, to provide for them and to return to doing the real work.

Once again Lester has penned a tale that makes me thankful I live in the time that I do, and that I have all these courageous women to thank for the recognition we can now achieve.

The French Photographer is a must read, whether you are a lover of romance, history, art or just some amazing memorable characters. A couple of years ago I definitely couldn’t claim to love historical novels but talented authors like Natasha Lester are certainly changing that.

I found history to be quite tedious at school but reading wonderful novels like this can educate me on historical events that I had absolutely no idea about without the tedium I always attached to a history lesson.

Thanks to Hachette 5 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading The French Photographer so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments.

The French Photographer is published by Hachette and available now where all good books are sold.

8 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The French Photographer

  1. Thank you @beautyandlace and @hachette for providing me with a copy of this great book The French Photographer for review.

    I was astounded at the amount of research that Natasha Lester has done for this story. This makes the story of Jess & Dan all the more interesting and unbelievable in parts to know that the horrors of individuals in war actually occurred. Natasha weaves a great tale in relating the story of Jess who was a high class model for Vogue and finished up as one of the most prominent female war correspondents and photographers during WWII.

    The love story of Jess and Dan was heartbreaking, Both of them faced insurmountable situations during the war with separations and heartbreak. The compassion Dan felt for little Victorine was beautiful, and it makes you wonder how many children were in similar circumstances during that period, not knowing who their birth parents were and having no means to find out.

    It also showed the prejudice towards all women during that era and the treatment of war refugees by military personnel who felt they had the ‘right’ to take what they believed was theirs was shocking.

    The other story of D’Arcy was set in modern times and the author expertly weaved the two stories together. A story line about the parentage of D’Arcy was very well done, and had me guessing until the very end.

    Its hard to say too much more without giving away spoilers. Natasha Lester’s stories just keep me enthralled and I think at this rate she will become of the major Australian historical fiction voices of all time.

  2. As a reader of Natasha s previous book, The Paris Seamstress, I was prepared for an in depth, well researched story of love, war, betrayal and aftermath.

    I was not prepared for how much of her heart and soul she poured into this story. So beautiful captured and at the end of the book, the detail into how and where she researched and entwined true accounts as much possible was just as interesting as the story itself. It also opened my eyes about things that happen during and after wars, one that I would not have given much thought about.

    Each and every character was written true to character. Jess epitomises women today, not stereotyped into one persona while still being honest to herself, her life and friends. Dan is the ultimate war hero and man that we all search for, don’t we?

    I only struggled with one part of the story, I would have fought. (trying very hard to not write a spoiler here) but such a fantastic read, quite possibly going to be very hard to beat for my best book of the year.

    Definitely will be recommending this book to all and sundry!

  3. This book was another fantastic one from Natasha Lester. It’s another dual narrative historical fiction piece about a French photographer named Jessica May (who is inspired by Man Ray’s lover, Lee Miller). May is a former model who ventures overseas during World War II to be a photojournalist. It’s a tough game and a man’s world. But along the way May also meets the devestatingly handsome, Dan Hallsworth and the two fall head over heels in love.

    The other major plot is set in the modern day and involves a young female art handler. She is intrigued by The Photographer’s work and is excited to find out more (as are we!)

    The French Photographer will sweep you away with its authentic story and gorgeous romance.

    Thank you once again for being such a fabulous storyteller Natasha. I can’t wait to read what comes next 😀

  4. I absolutely loved this book!!! I’m actually struggling to find the words. Natasha Lester, you are incredible!
    The world of Jessica May became so real to me. To see her traverse from party girl to war correspondent, with all the hurdles in her way. The hardships and horrors encountered. The friendships she formed, the love that grew amongst the devastation.
    The dual narrative intrigued me, and while I felt most strongly for Jess, D’Arcy’s story drew me in as it progressed.
    I have a massive book hangover now. It may not go away until Ms Lester releases her next masterpiece!

  5. Wow.. what a story!

    So easy to get into this book.. I absolutely adore the setting the characters and the way Natasha Lester expertly described the setting.

    More than a light hearted read, this is a book I will remember for a long time.

  6. WOW!! i found this book so imaginary it was hard to believe any of it. Firstly i could not see a Vogue model going to the front line to take photos of war as if she would be allowed anywhere near the front line. The subsequent story between Jessica May and Dan was quite ridiculous.
    i did not enjoy the book at all too fanciful for me – a love story that never ended!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *